Two years away from the London Olympics -- which he says could be his last -- Michael Phelps plans to use the next month to gauge his mental and physical readiness. He begins his preparation this weekend by traveling to Irvine, Calif., for the USA Swimming National Championships, which will run Tuesday to Aug. 7.
"I think this summer is important for me both for next year, but also leading into London," Phelps said Thursday at the Meadowbrook Aquatic and Fitness Center. "To be able to set up an event program that we can try a couple times before we go to London, and see what works, and see what event program works, I think this is going to see where we stand."
The U.S. team for the world championships, which take place next summer in Shanghai, will be selected after nationals next week and after the Pan Pacific Championships, which are held later this month, also in Irvine.
"I can already say there are going to be a lot of things we're going to have to fix in order for me to be as prepared as I want to be not only for next summer but also going to London," Phelps said. "I think it's going to be exciting for me to be able to rest and compete against the guys who are competing for spots on the world championship team next year and also the Olympics."
Phelps spoke of the strokes he is hoping to improve this month in preparation for next summer's world championships and London. His butterfly was OK, but could be better, and he said he was having the most trouble with his freestyle.
"I don't think I've ever felt this bad in my freestyle stroke," he said. "I just feel like I can't swim it. I don't know what it is. A lot of little technical things that hopefully we can fix between now and nationals. I think just overall there's a lot of conditioning things that I think I can change between now and London."
Phelps mentioned that he is not where he needs to be physically. His conditioning has been suffering because of all the time he took off after Beijing.
"It's all on me and the inconsistency of workouts," Phelps said. "Not really putting in the yardage that I need to do to be able to compete at the level that I want to compete at. I think the six months off after Beijing, and then the however [many] months, days, weeks off I decided to take this year, everything is stacking up. If you look at it before that, I didn't really miss any time at all. It was pretty much just eight to 10 years straight."
This week at nationals, Phelps said, he is focusing on the more cerebral aspects of swimming.
"I think this is going to be more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge. I think not being in the best shape that I could be in, and that I should be in, in my eyes is really going to be a test of how strong I can be mentally and how much I can work my mind to get through these next couple of weeks," he said.
While Phelps is focused on the events coming up this year and preparing for the 2012 Olympics, goals for London are not far from his mind. After surpassing everyone's expectations in Beijing in 2008, he says he still has his goals for London. As to what they are? Phelps says that is the million-dollar question and something that will be shared only with his coach, Bob Bowman.
"The goal I have set for London is a very hard goal," Phelps said. "I think it's something that I think I can reach, and it will mean something very special if I reach that. The only two that are really going to know that goal are Bob and I. We're the only two that are going to put the countless hours in the pool and the weight room."
Having just turned 25 in June, and having already accomplished more than any Olympic athlete, with 14 Olympic gold medals, including eight in Beijing in 2008 alone, the question of retirement is not far from Phelps' mind.
"I told myself growing up I never wanted to swim past 30," he said. "I've always said that when I retire I want to hang my suit up and say I did everything I wanted to do. If I can get to a day in my life, in my career where I can say, 'I've done everything that I've ever set my mind to,' then I think I can look at that and say that's a good career."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun